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Encouragement for Discouraged Ministers

Encouragement for Discouraged Ministers

I was given the assignment to “write an encouraging message to preachers who just need a weekly “’pick me up.’” That sounded easy enough. But then I almost immediately launched into perhaps the most discouraging and trying stretch of my entire ministry. I put off writing the piece because I was struggling to find encouragement myself. Yet the deadline loomed and the struggles were not over. So, I’m going to share with you some things that kept me going in that season of trial.

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Ministry is going to have its highs and lows. The highs are exhilarating! The endorphins flow when you preach the good news of the Gospel of Christ. There’s just no feeling like knowing that you have played a part in rescuing a lost soul when someone responds to that gospel. The opportunities to help others through their dark times gives such fulfillment.

However, the lows can be crushing. Nobody will treat you better than the brethren, and nobody will treat you worse. This is where the courage to continue comes in. When your efforts are thankless here on earth is the perfect time to recall the One whose approval really matters. Remember the words of Hebrews 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” A ministry fulfilled in a way that shows love toward God and His people is a successful ministry, and should be the constant goal of every preacher.

It also helps to know that each of us is a part of a bigger story, the scope of which we likely will not know in our lifetimes. We merely present ourselves to be tools used by God in the ways that He sees fit. Our hope is to prove useful to the Lord as He achieves His purposes. The preacher writes in Ecclesiastes 3:11-12, “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from beginning event to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime.” Our ministries are a journey, not a destination. There comes no point at which we have “arrived,” for as long as life continues so do the peaks and valleys.

Have you ever contemplated where “happily ever after” occurs in the story? It is always at the end, because the only way to reach “happily ever after” is to stop telling the story. If the story continued, then the protagonists would eventually meet more challenges. The triumph of today gives way to the tragedy of tomorrow, which is eventually replaced by another victory.

The point of all of this is to say embrace the story of your ministry. Enjoy the good days along the way without worrying about the troubles of the future. That’s not to say that the troubles won’t come, they surely will. But why should they rob today of its joy? Fill your time with doing good on behalf of your Lord. Rejoice in the day of adversity, knowing that however this page turns out, you know how your book ends. Provided you have endured faithfully, then your story ends with “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master.” In other words, you live happily ever after.

Are You In Love?

Are You In Love?

Sometimes in the rise and fall of romantic relationships, you might observe someone who seems to really love the idea of being married. They like the idea of getting to have a wedding and wear a nice ring. They like the trappings and benefits of marriage. They like the idea of getting a home together, and having children. They might even obsess over the rules of marriage: the husband is supposed to do this and that, while the wife does such and such. They might get the wording of the vows just right. Everything seems perfect about it except… they don’t actually love the other person. They love marriage, but not their spouse.
How well would such a relationship turn out? That marriage would soon feel empty and ritualistic. They would eventually feel trapped and frustrated by the rules that bound them to the spouse they grew to despise, even if they continued to faithfully abide by those rules. There might be bitter disputes over the precise applications of the rules that they two are bound to follow.
We can recognize that such a situation is backwards. If a person loves their spouse, then they will gladly abide by the rules of marriage that bind them together. Love creates obedience; obedience does not create love. Jesus affirms this order in John 14:15 when he said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
At times people approach religion in an equally backwards way. They are converted to the church rather than to the Christ. They are fiercely dedicated to the rules of the church (the Bride of Christ), but have little affection for the bridegroom (Jesus). They may have the forms and patterns of Christianity down to perfection, but still have a religion that is as empty and ritualistic as the marriage we described earlier.
Please don’t misunderstand my implication. Rules and obedience DO matter. However, our obedient submission ought to be the result of our love for Jesus, not a substitute for it. After all, without love perfect knowledge and great service would be useless according to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
Are you in love with Jesus? Or just with the idea of being a Christian?

The Golden Rule and Teaching

The Golden Rule and Teaching

We all want our friends to go to heaven. We want them to be sure of the joy of God’s salvation. We want them to live in a way that pleases God. Sometimes we know that they need to make some kind of change in order to realize those goals. Maybe you’re seeing something they have missed. How do we help them change?

The first thing that we should do is put ourselves in their place. If we believed as they do, then how would we want the truth to be presented to us? This is right along with the Golden Rule—Matthew 7:12, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” We would likely prefer to be engaged in a kind and respectful way rather than a harsh and demeaning way (Gal. 6:1). We would want the truth presented with compassionate care for our well-being rather than a haughty, condescending tone (Rom 12:16). We would want to be reasoned with rather than sharply rebuked (Acts 17:17; 1 Tim. 5:1-2).

We must never present the truth of Christ without the love of Christ. Our passion must never be devoid of compassion. Remember that sinners are not our enemies, but rather they are precious souls in need of Christ. Satan is the real enemy, but even the archangel Michael “did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ’The Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 9). If even the archangel felt the need to leave railing judgment up to the Lord, even dealing with something as evil as Satan, then perhaps we should be hesitant to offer railing judgement against our fellow man who is not pure evil. Instead, let us reason together with love and respect as we attempt to accurately discern God’s will for our lives.



At the outset, I want to make clear that this is not a sermon.  This is not going to be a writing where I have already reached a conclusion, and I’m trying to convince you to reach that same conclusion.  I’m simply letting you in on some thoughts that have been going through my mind as I wrestle with this topic.  I invite you to reflect on the following things and add your own input to the discussion.

Through the warmer months of the year various articles on modesty will make the rounds, inspiring discussion and debate.  The discussion usually involves some tension between the responsibility of individuals to control their own eyes and thoughts vs. the responsibility of other individuals to avoid causing unnecessary temptation by wearing sexy, revealing clothing.  Love of God and our fellow man would seem to offer constraint on both sides of that equation.  The beholder certainly must take responsibility for him/herself, and will answer accordingly.  Also, a godly person surely does not want to be the occasion of another’s sin.  In fact, Jesus seems to take this very seriously as he says in Luke 17:1-2, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin”(ESV). 

Now please don’t be sidetracked by the preceding paragraph.  It was meant to be illustrative of a point rather than the point itself.  This article is not about lust, but rather about a very similar sinful desire – envy.  One site defines envy as “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.” It occurs to me that there is a very similar tension.  The beholder is responsible for their own thoughts and attitudes, however a godly person would not want to be the occasion of another’s sin.

The question that I’m really getting at is, “How do the things that I present (ex: through social media) contribute to tempting my brother or sister to envy?”  For the sake of discussion, let’s put aside the question of whether it is sinful to cause someone else’s temptation.  Let’s just assume that you (the reader) don’t WANT to cause others to sin, and are interested in avoiding setting out unnecessary stumbling blocks.

Here is where I’m asking real questions that I don’t necessarily have the answers to.  I just want you to think about it with me.  Should I post a picture to brag about my new car or my new house, knowing that there is a real possibility that it will tempt my friend to envy?  Should I photo-chronicle my amazing vacation, knowing it is likely to tempt my friend to envy?

Of course, a person can take that line of thinking to an unreasonable extent.  It would be possible for someone in a certain circumstance to envy almost anything we post.  But let’s not be silly about this.  I’m talking about trying to determine what we can reasonably do to avoid tempting our friend in an unnecessary way.  Maybe a helpful guideline would be to ask ourselves “Is this post bragging?”  If so (and be honest), then we probably should skip it.  Is bragging about the new car the purpose of the post, or is it incidentally in the background?


A part of the problem might be our attitude toward envy.  Maybe we DO want to inspire that feeling in others.  Imagine we were given the opportunity to take an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation, but the caveat was that we couldn’t post anything about it.  Would that dampen our enjoyment?  Would it drive us crazy to not be able to share?  Do we need the “ooh’s” and “ah’s” of our friends to validify how great the experience is?

On the other hand, it is fun to be able to rejoice with our friends over their good fortune sometimes.  However, that is easier if their good fortune doesn’t happen to be exactly what our own dream would be.  Much like with lust, what is tempting to one person might not be to another.

Perhaps people take envy too lightly.  If they thought it to be a legitimate sin, then surely they would not want to arouse it in others.  At least godly people wouldn’t.  In Mark 7:21-23, envy is listed among the things that defile a person.  In Galatians 5:20-21, envy is listed as a work of the flesh that will keep a person out of heaven.  Romans 13:13, exhorts us, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.”  It seems clear that envy is a soul-condemning sin according to the Bible.  Regardless of how socially acceptable it might be, a godly person must take it seriously.  We would not post porn designed to cause our friend to lust, so why would we post things designed to cause our friend to envy?

There are fine lines here and lots of gray areas.  I’m not judging any of you on your past posts.  I’ve done nearly everything that I’ve mentioned in this post.  I simply want to start you thinking about the subject.

So what are your thoughts?  How conscious should we be about trying not to cause others to envy?  What about areas other than social media?  How/When should we share good news with friends to cause rejoicing, but not in a way that is likely to cause envy?

Paul’s Approach to Social Change

Paul’s Approach to Social Change

Sometimes we become aware that the world would be a better place if only society would widely adopt a more moral stance on a certain issue. Depending on your perspective a wide variety of issues may be on your mind right now. So what’s a Christian to do? Lead a revolution? Organize a demonstration? Lobby for better laws? Let your dollars speak with a boycott? Just give up and hide off the grid somewhere?

[Spoiler Alert] I’m not going to tell you the exact strategy that you should employ to enact the social change that you would like to see happen. However, I am going to discuss how Paul dealt with the very sensitive social issue of slavery on one occasion. Slavery was a social norm at the time, but was naturally at odds with various Christian principles – such as the golden rule. This is an area where society needed to change. Nevertheless, leaving behind the values of the world is sometimes a gradual process. How would Paul deal with such a touchy issue? Having made some observations about his tactics, then you can decide if and how to apply them to the social issue that is bothering you.

Philemon was probably a guy who was pretty well off, and he was a leader in the church of Christ in Colossae. However, like many in his time, he was a slave owner. One of his slaves, Onesimus, stole a little seed money and made a break for it. The escaped slave eventually makes his way to Rome where he encounters Paul. Paul converts Onesimus to Christ, and they develop a close friendship. Things are going well, but Paul knows that the situation between Onesimus and Philemon needs to be properly resolved. Onesimus’s freedom is not yet legal. Philemon has been stolen from. The two men might have some pretty hard feelings towards each other as a result. All of those things need to be set right. So Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon! But he doesn’t send him empty-handed; he sends a very powerful little letter back with him. Before we proceed, I do want to offer the caveat that Philemon was a Christian. There would likely have been some differences in how Paul handled the situation if Philemon had been a non-Christian. Now let’s look at that letter to Philemon and observe Paul’s techniques.

After a pretty standard salutation, Paul starts setting the stage for his request:

(Verses 4-7 NASB) “I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

This is not empty politeness, but rather Paul is bringing to Philemon’s mind the very qualities that he would be appealing to in a moment. Philemon had a reputation of love, faith, and hospitality. There is good in Philemon. Remember that it is very rare that a person is all-bad, even if they do some bad things. Looking for their positive traits is a good place to begin in dealing with people.

This is a technique straight out of Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Give someone a good reputation to live up to, and they will often strive to do so. Paul was about to challenge Philemon to live up to his reputation by extending his noteworthy love and hospitality to his runaway slave.


(Verses 8-9) “Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus

Here Paul employs another Dale Carnegie principle, “No one likes to take orders.” This is a very interesting move on Paul’s part. He was confident that he had the authority to order Philemon to do what was proper, but he specifically refuses to exercise that authority. Paul was about to appeal to Philemon to voluntarily relinquish the legal authority that he had over Onesimus because of love. So Paul sets the example by voluntarily relinquishing the religious authority that he had over Philemon because of love. In a very Christ-like manner, Paul is leading by example rather than command.


(Verses 10-14) “I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.”

Onesimus, having been converted by Paul, was Paul’s child in the faith. By using this terminology, Paul is redefining the relationship. If a person is a son or a brother in the family, then they can’t be a slave to that family (Galatians 4:7). Their value is much too high for that.

Value of the other person is the key. I count at least 6 times in 25 verses that Paul points to the value of Onesimus.
• He’s my son – vs 10
• He’s useful – vs 11
• He’s my heart – vs 12
• I wish he could stay with me – vs 13
• He has eternal value – vs 15
• He’s equal to me- vs 17

Understanding that other people are inherently valuable is the beginning of treating them the way that they should be treated.

Another Dale Carnegie principle for changing people without causing resentment is to “Let the other person save face.” Paul again does just that in giving Philemon the opportunity to do the right thing voluntarily. Paul essentially tells Philemon, “You will deserve credit for doing this good thing, when you follow through with what I’m about to suggest. I don’t want to steal your glory by forcing you to do this.”

Paul is also refusing to do immoral things to achieve a moral end. He will not “steal” Onesimus, such as it were, but rather he will go about this process with everything above board.


(Verses 15-16) “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Here is it! This is what the whole letter has been building towards. Paul does not use the specific words, “Will you please set Onesimus free?” That’s because Paul is asking for something much bigger that just Onesimus’s freedom. He is asking Philemon to ACCEPT Onesimus as a brother, as an equal. This was a much more transformative request. If he had only asked for freedom, then Philemon could have released Onesimus, but continued to view him with contempt as an inferior – as inherently lesser in some way. Paul doesn’t expressly condemn slavery because he knows that slavery wasn’t the real issue, but rather it was a symptom of the issue. The real issue was how to value one another.

This presents an entirely different model for social change. If slaves were viewed as brothers, then they could no longer be slaves. If they were equal in spiritual value, then why wouldn’t they be equal socially as well? The entire institution of slavery would crumble in upon itself without violence or resentment if this bottom-up approach took root.


(Verses 17-22) “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well). Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say. At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you.

After one more statement of Onesimus’s value (he is to be treated the same as Paul himself), Paul then takes on the role of redeemer in a very Christ-like way. He assumes the debt of Onesimus, if it must be paid. He again refuses to defraud Philemon. He will not use immoral means to achieve a moral end. However, he does mention the great spiritual debt that Philemon owes to him. He is not demanding payment on THAT debt, thereby setting an example that maybe it would be better for Philemon to not demand payment on Onesimus’s debt either.

He then again gives Philemon a good reputation to live up to (verses 20-21), and says that he plans to come visit. This took some faith since he was writing from prison, but it provided some accountability. Paul would see first-hand how Philemon responded. It also gives a time when Paul would be able to pay the debt if Philemon chose to collect it.


(Verse 3) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Verse 25) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Grace is the key to it all. The letter begins and ends with pronouncements of grace. Paul had sought grace from Philemon, who had a supply to give because he himself had received the grace of Jesus.

Having examined Paul’s letter to Philemon, let us now reflect on some general principles that we can glean from his example.


1. The means matter.

Paul refused to act immorally, even to right the social injustice suffered by his beloved Onesimus.

It just would have been so easy for Paul to keep Onesimus in Rome and write back to Philemon to order him to let him go. But Paul does it much differently – a more difficult way – but it (presumably) ends up being win-win for Philemon and Onesimus. Onesimus still get’s his freedom, but Philemon has the chance to choose to do the right thing himself rather than be forced. It makes the whole thing more loving and removes bitterness from the resolution.

2. Bottom-Up vs. Top-Down

I admit that this is the portion of this study that has most deeply challenged my own previous thoughts. I also admit that some of the following thoughts might be a bit idealistic, which is probably why I found them challenging. However, ideals matter and can force us to think differently about our strategies.

Activists for change have sometimes been so stirred by injustices that have been suffered that they are strongly tempted toward using any means at all to correct the situation. They might impatiently want to use coercion or violence to achieve their means more quickly. After all this injustice needs to stop now. Alternately, they might seek to force the desired change through political leverage and top-down authoritarian policies to legislate the change.

However, the New Testament is more supportive of bottom-to-top, inside-out change to individuals that transforms their behaviors and relationships. This then spreads through society and leads to organic change to the legal/political framework of that society rather than forced, unwilling changes.

What if 19th century Christians had solved the problem of slavery in America by the slower, less violent process of transforming relationships to greater equality by learning to value one another as God does? Then allowing laws to be formed that would reflect the new reality. Then as racism (the disease) is destroyed, slavery (the symptom) would have evaporated and there would have been no need for a bloody war and subsequent civil rights movement. As is, the symptom was treated but the disease was left behind and we still feel it 150 years later. However, if slavery had been allowed to dissolve bottom-up, then would our country still have the racial scars that it does?

That said, maybe there were not very many 19th century Christians that were interested in taking this approach. That doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate about a better way, and try to learn for the future. This is especially true in light of the intense divisions in America today.

3. There is a difference between Christians and non-Christians.

As Christians we are responsible for correcting OUR ways, but we do not have the right to FORCE the ways of God upon others who are outside the church. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

That doesn’t mean that we are content with society’s ills. It does not mean that we don’t seek change where needed. It does mean that our primary tool for change is Christ and His gospel’s ability to change hearts and minds.

Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and consider Paul’s approach to dealing with the citizens of that immoral society. His tools were not persuasive speech. He did not seek to win them over by superior skills of argumentation and wisdom. His tools were “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Those same tools are the best at our disposal as well.


Ultimately, to change society for the best we must hold up Christ and reflect Him in our lives. This is actually the model that Paul followed. Just as Paul took on Onesimus’s debt, Jesus has taken our debt of sin, and paid it with his own blood. Just as Paul negotiates Onesimus’s freedom, Jesus has provided our freedom from the slavery of sin. Just as Paul asked a lot of Onesimus (going back to his slave-owner) and Philemon (defying social convention by releasing his slave and embracing him as a brother), Jesus does ask a lot from us. However, he gives us so much more back in return. Just as Paul’s plan required great trust from Onesimus, we must trust Jesus completely if we would gain true freedom. Just as Paul gave Philemon a good name to live up to, Jesus gives us His good name to live up to.

It would be hard to identify two people who changed the world more than Jesus and Paul. Let those who wear the name of Christ strive to follow his example. The world will be better off for it.

The Candidates We Love to Hate

The Candidates We Love to Hate

     This presidential election season has spawned more hatred among Christians than any that I can remember before in my lifetime. I don’t mean hatred toward any ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, or gender. I’m talking about hatred toward the candidates themselves.

     Over the past few months, I’ve read many posts and engaged in countless discussions with good, Christian people about the candidates. There has been one common thread in these discourses: regardless of how we plan to vote, we’re all disgusted by the candidates. And make no mistake about it, it is personal. Some are so disgusted that they’ve sworn to never vote for either one for any reason. Others of us plan to vote for one of the major candidates, but we have to let you know how much we hate, despise, detest, and/or are disgusted by that person too so that you won’t think that we’re bad Christians. Sometimes it seems like a competition to see who can show the most disgust.

     It’s almost as if our own morality has become defined by our level of contempt for these two individuals. Something feels off about that. I’m uncomfortable with what it brought out of me, and I’m concerned about what’s coming from my brothers as well. I’m reminded of the words of James 3:8-11 “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?”

     Yes, there are absolutely things that have been said and done by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton that need to be condemned, and cannot be condoned. However there has to be some way to express our disapproval of their attitudes and actions without forgetting that we’re talking about real people, with real souls, and real value. With that in mind, I’d like to offer…

3 Reasons to Love Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
(or at least not hate them!)

1. They were made in the image of God (James 3:9). As such, they have eternal souls, just like you and me. A soul is of absolutely priceless value, regardless of the bad choices a person makes. Our Lord gave His life for the souls of sinners, and our love of Jesus requires us to hold souls in the same high regard. We should look at the transgressions of Trump and Clinton with grief for their souls rather than with self-righteous disdain.

2. One of them will be our nation’s leader. That means that they will need to be a part of our regular prayer lives. As we are told in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” It is difficult to hate someone for whom you pray regularly and sincerely. My prayer for our new president, is that God will place godly influences in his or her life. Hearts do change, and people who have lived evil lives do return to the Lord. In any case, he or she will need wisdom to lead this country. I will pray that they’ll gain it.

3. They didn’t put themselves there. The great thing about democracy is that “We the people” get to play a large role in selecting our leaders. Neither Trump nor Clinton led military invasions to take over the country by force. The American people selected them. Since the primaries, the two candidates have been pretty much what we expected them to be. Sure there have been “leaks” and bits of new information here and there, but all of it fits well within the public perception of the candidates’ character from before the primaries. I don’t think very many people have honestly responded to the leaks by saying, “I’m totally surprised by that! I really didn’t think he/she was that type of person!” It doesn’t really seem fair to be angry at Trump and Clinton for being who we thought they were when we chose them. If fingers must be pointed, then they should be aimed at the electorate. Yet, even this is futile at this point.

     What would I like for you to do after having read this? I’d like for us to take up the challenge of loving those with whom we disagree (Matthew 5:44), even politicians. Let our words be gracious and tasteful (Colossians 4:6), even about politics. Let us be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32), even when the other person is wrong. Let’s slow our anger and remember that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). In this way, we will preserve the integrity of our faith and the effectiveness of our testimony after this election has passed.

May God be with us.